The Oregon softball program had become known as one of the best teams in the nation with one of the worst facilities. Over the past four years, the Ducks have compiled a 202-46-1 record, three Pac-12 championships and three berths in the Women’s College World Series, including a showing in the 2012 WCWS championship series.
Apart from missing that ever-elusive national championship trophy, Oregon was missing the facilities to back up its success. The Ducks used to play at Howe Field, a baseball field built in 1936 that was converted to a softball stadium in 1987. Despite the history that accompanied the field, the inadequate seating, dumpy and musty locker rooms and overall poor conditions meant the stadium was due for a renovation. On Friday, March 24, the Ducks will face Stanford at 6 p.m. in just another conference game, but more importantly, they’ll christen a new part of Oregon softball history: Jane Sanders Stadium.
“It was breathtaking; the stadium is beautiful,” senior Geri Ann Glasco said upon entering Jane Sanders for the first time on Feb. 2. “We are really lucky to play in this [stadium] and are so grateful for that.”
“Howe was a big part of our program and this is the next step in our program,” sophomore Jenna Lilley added.
The softball program was informed of its new home at the kickoff of the Women in Fight program back in June 2014, thanks to a $10 million donation from Robert Sanders. Sanders, a former Oregon football player from the class of 1949, met his wife Jane Sanders, a former cheerleader from the class of 1950, at Oregon, and together they sustained a great amount of success in the lumber industry.
“The generous donation from the Sanders family has made it a uniquely exciting time for Oregon softball,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens told GoDucks.com back in 2014. “We are pleased to build Jane Sanders Stadium on campus where so many memories have been made.”
As of now, the stadium is nearly complete and both head coach Mike White and Mullens fully expect the stadium to be finished come the home-opener on March 24.
“Everything that we’ve heard puts us right on schedule … it’s a very tight timeline,” Mullens said. “We’ve got 100 folks here working today, hustling … but we are right on schedule for March 24.”
One of Jane Sanders Stadium’s main upgrades is centralizing every softball-related facility at one location. Apart from the stadium, White and his staff will have a building containing their offices, a team meeting room, bathrooms and locker rooms. Also, Oregon will have an indoor facility big enough to fit an entire infield, as well as drop down nets to form batting cages, allowing the players to get extra work in during the rainy season.
“We now have a practice facility. Now we can come out here at any time and don’t have to worry about other teams being in our facility or having to share,” White said. “We can go do our inside work there when it’s raining, and now because of the outfield and its synthetic surface, it can drain straight away and be ready to go.”
The Oregon ticket office has already sold over 900 season tickets, making it the top Oregon women’s sport as far as ticket sales go.
“We’ve gone from Howe Field with maybe 700 seats — most of those obstructed — to just under 1,500 seats,” Jeff Stewart, associate director of Oregon Ticket Operations, said. “As far as single-game tickets go, we’re still not sure yet when those will be available — there will be outfield bleachers put in once construction is complete here for an additional 1,000 seats that will be general admission.”
The coveted student section for Oregon supporters will be placed directly behind the opposing team’s dugout and right next to its fans, a delight to the Oregon softball players.
“Our fans here are the best fans in the country and I truly believe that. Once you get [fans] into the stadium, the stadium will seem a lot bigger to the opponent,” Glasco said. “It’ll be good for us and it’s just another part of having home field advantage.”
The addition of turf in the outfield will allow the Ducks to play through more rain because the outfield will not be mushy and muddy. This will not only cut back on the number of rain delays, it will allow Oregon to host games and tournaments prior to the beginning of the Pac-12 season in mid-March. The Ducks have not played a home game within the first five weeks of the season and haven’t hosted a preseason tournament since the Cascade Clash in 2007.
Arguably the biggest benefit of having the new stadium and complex will be the expected recruiting boost the Ducks should receive. The program is already among the best in the nation and arguably the best on the West Coast, so having facilities to match that pedigree will attract not only the top recruits on this side of the country, but the top recruits across the nation.
“I’ve played on a lot of different fields, seen a lot of different fields and I think this is probably the most beautiful stadium I’ve ever been in,” Glasco said.
For years, White and his staff have been in discussions about taking the next step forward as a program, and it always settled on a state-of-the-art complex to compete with other colleges. The idea of a new stadium always seemed like a distant possibility, but now that it’s finally here and almost ready, White couldn’t be happier.
“It’s solid now. It’s not just a picture now; it’s not just a dream,” White said. “We started telling the story [of getting a new complex] a few years ago, so now we’re just real, real excited that the time is here.”